I am a 22-year-old graduate from Nagpur who aspires to be an IAS officer. I belong to the Scheduled Caste category but, to be honest, I didn’t face a too many difficulties over it.
But I’d like to share two instances where I unfortunately did.
Up until class four, I went to a convent school located in a basti where kids from lower-caste categories used to study. Although it was a convent school, it didn’t look like one. There were no facilities or any kind of exposure as such.
My parents then decided to send me to a well-reputed English medium school in Nagpur.
When I went to take admission, the school staff asked me to sit for an entrance test. I cleared it but despite that, they refused to take me in. The issue here clearly wasn’t my ability or inability – nor was it about the fee. My father, a police officer, could afford my education.
It was about my social background. My caste.
A few days later, the chancellor of the school called my parents and said, in Marathi, “Generally, tumche evaddha mothhya school madhye adjust hot naahi [kids from your community – scheduled caste and scheduled tribe – don’t generally adjust in such elite schools].”
See, we don’t directly face caste-based discrimination in today’s time. It is all very subtle. Here, too, the chancellor didn’t explicitly say that we don’t want you in our school.
But one can easily understand what his words implied. My parents did.
My parents tried to convince him, but he didn’t budge.
Subsequently, my father had to seek support from a BJP MLA who the chancellor knew. And with his recommendation, I finally got the admission a month later than other applicants.
When I started going to school, I realised that out of 120 students in my batch, there were not even ten who were from lower-caste communities. Perhaps the chancellor had turned more applications down.
Anyway, I got my admission and made some really good friends – all Brahmins. They never treated me badly because of my caste. The teachers too were quite supportive.
Years later, I received a trophy and a prize (for something I can’t recall) from the same chancellor who had refused to take me because of my social background.
At that moment, I felt good but also felt bad that my parents had to struggle so much to make sure that their son studies in a good school. I started working harder from that day onwards and made to the school’s merit list in the class ten board exams.
When I moved to college, while my friends were always nice to me, I observed that the number of teachers from SC/ST categories was considerably less than those from the upper caste.
Nevertheless, I graduated with flying colours.
Last year, I was reminded of my caste-identity yet again when I moved to Pune to prepare for UPSC exam. I was looking for a flat and found one in a nice locality.
But the owner of the house said no as soon as he came to know my surname.
“In this building, all residents are Brahmins and they don’t allow Muslims or others [people from lower-caste categories] to live,” he said.
Again, money wasn’t the issue; it was my caste. It has happened with a lot of my friends who are Muslims and those who come from lower-caste communities. Here in Pune, those renting their flats always ask the surname of interested parties. That’s the norm.
Casteism is normalised to an extent that sometimes people don’t realise that they are being casteist. For instance, there is a very popular Marathi abuse called ‘Dalitdar’ (which means like Dalit). Whenever they see something filthy, they say, “Kya Dalitdar hai?”
Do they even know the meaning of the word? Are they aware that it is downright casteist?
Perhaps, some of them use it unintentionally because they have internalised that if something is dirty, it has to be linked to those belonging to Dalit communities.
Whenever I hear someone use this word, I immediately tell them not to. My friend used to say Dalitdar a lot of times but he stopped when I told him not to.
He understood but unfortunately, not everyone does and I can’t fight with everyone.
Hence, I am studying hard to become an IAS officer to create structural changes. I want to make an inclusive society where people from different caste, religion and community live in harmony; where no one is denied any opportunity on the basis of their caste.
I think we can only create an inclusive society by educating people around and creating awareness. An inclusive Indian society is what I want. That’s my dream.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty
As told to LiveWire
This story is part of LiveWire’s series – On The Edge – centred around caste-based discrimination on campuses across India. If you wish to share your experience too, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are not comfortable writing, you can also let us know if you’d like to speak to our reporters.